What is Occupational Therapy ?

The Occupational Therapy New Zealand/ Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa (OTNZ) has adopted the following key terms, in doing so we acknowledge the unique bicultural and varied practice contexts in which occupational therapists / nga kaiwhakaora ngangahau participate in.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy/whakaora ngangahau: is “a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy [whakaora ngangahau] is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists [nga kaiwhakaora ngangahau] achieve this by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement (adapted from the WFOT definition of occupational therapy, 2012).

WHAT is "occupation"?

Occupations: “are groups of activities and tasks of everyday life, named, organised, and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture: occupation is everything people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves (self care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities (productivity); [they are] the domain of concern and therapeutic medium of occupational therapy” (Townsend & Polatajko, 2007, p. 369).

WHAT is occupational science?

Occupational science is the systematic study of the things that people do (their occupations) and includes research at an individual, group or population level. The focus of research might be on the meanings occupations hold; patterns of occupations; or the relationship between occupation and health. (Hocking, 2012, p. 1 – abridged).

What is the general scope of practice for an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists [nga kaiwhakaora ngangahau] are registered health professionals, who use processes of enabling occupation to optimise human activity and participation in all life domains across the lifespan, and thus promote the health and well-being of individuals, groups, and communities. These life domains include: learning and applying knowledge; general tasks and demands; communication; mobility; self-care; domestic life; interpersonal interaction and relationships; major life areas; and community, social and civic life.

Enabling occupation incorporates the application of knowledge, principles, methods and procedures related to understanding, predicting, ameliorating or influencing peoples' participation in occupations within these life domains. Such practice is evidence-based, undertaken in accordance with the Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand's prescribed Competencies and Code of Ethics, and within the individual occupational therapist’s / nga kaiwhakaora ngangahau area and level of expertise (Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand, (n.d.).

Te Reo translations:

In 2010, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) confirmed an official te reo title for occupational therapy and occupational therapist.

Occupational therapy is translated as whakaora ngangahau. Whakaora’ means ‘to restore to health’ and ‘ngangahau’ is an adjective meaning ‘active, spirited, zealous’. In choosing this translation, the Commission is conveying the idea of ‘reawakening, or restoring to health one’s activeness, spiritedness and zeal’ (occupational therapy).

Occupational therapist is translated as kaiwhakaora ngangahau. If wanting to use the plural - occupational therapists, then the term is preceded with ngā as in ‘ngā kaiwhakaora ngangahau’.


Hocking, C. (2012). Occupational science. In M D Gellman & J. R. Turner (Eds.), Encyclopedia of behavioural medicine (Online ed.). Springer-Verlag. Retrieved from http://referencelive.springer.com

Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand (n.d.). Notice of scope of practice and related qualifications prescribed by the Occupational Therapy Board of NZ. Retrieved from http://www.otboard.org.nz/Registration/Currentlyregisteredoccupationaltherapists/OTScopeofPractice.aspx

Townsend, E.A., & Polatajko, H.J. (2007). Enabling occupation II: Advancing an occupational therapy vision for health, well-being, & justice through occupation. Ottawa, ON: CAOT.

World Federation of Occupational Therapy. (2012). Definition of occupational therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.wfot.org/AboutUs/AboutOccupationalTherapy/DefinitionofOccupationalTherapy.aspx

Translation expertise:

Hohepa MacDougall Kaiwhakamāori / Translator, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori / Māori Language Commission (2010).

HOW does occupational therapy help?

Occupational therapists help people to identify the occupations that are difficult for them. This could be due to problems with physical abilities, for example, strength or co-ordination, or mental abilities, for example, memory or organization skills. Other problems may arise from the experiences of mental illness.

Occupations which may be difficult for people include:

  • Preparing and eating meals
  • Driving and mobility
  • Recreation and exercise
  • Use of a computer or workstation
  • Showering or bathing
  • Getting things done on time and to a preferred standard
  • Having enough things to do and the confidence to do them
  • Developing supportive relationships/friendships

Occupational therapists may work with people to:

  • Help them learn new ways of doing things following illness or injury, for example dressing or cooking
  • Adapt material or equipment, for example recommend wheelchairs or provide special bath or toilet seats
  • Make changes to the living or working environment to help them undertake their usual occupations
  • Develop new skills, abilities or interests, for example job readiness programmes
  • Access ways to manage pain so people can still do things
  • Assist them to feel better about themselves and what they do
  • Develop their confidence in social situations


  • Community centres/services
  • Charitable organizations and trusts
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health services
  • Nursing and rest homes
  • Private practice clinics
  • Rehabilitation under ACC
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Schools/educational providers
  • People's homes
  • Workplaces

Occupational Therapists work with people of all ages


Nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateway that leads to new beginnings. Ralph Blum